Like tens of thousands before her, Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez left her village in Guatemala and travelled to the US for a better life.
The 20-year-old, from San Juan Ostuncalco, was hoping to earn money in the US so that she might pursue a higher education.
Gonzalez made it into the US. But last Wednesday, during an altercation in a small town, a US Customs and Border Protection officer shot her in the head. She died at the scene.
Much confusion still hovers over the shooting that took place in the small town of Rio Bravo in southern Texas, close to the border with Mexico. Initially, authorities said Gonzalez was part of a group who “attacked” a border patrol officer in the town with “blunt objects”.
Two days later, the official story changed somewhat. The attack became an “alleged attack”. The “illegal aliens” who had attacked the border patrol with blunt objects were now described as having “rushed” the border patrol officer. There was no mention of weapons or any indication of a threat to his life before he opened fire.
Shortly after the shooting, three Guatemalan men were “apprehended”; Gonzalez was lying in a plot of unkempt grass, where emergency services tried to save her, without success.
Gonzalez’s story floated around American media for a few days before it disappeared into oblivion.
Her mother, Lidia, said her daughter had studied accounting from a technical college and couldn’t find work. She needed a college degree which the family couldn’t afford.
“So she asked for my permission to go (to the US). I said no, you do not leave ‘Mom,’ she said, ‘I’m grown up already, I’m going to achieve something, I’m going earn my own money to study.’”
Reading about Gonzalez’s story, I couldn’t help but think about the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban in 2012.
If Yousafzai had defied the Taliban, by writing and campaigning for girls’ education, then Gonzalez, too, had made a tough, arduous journey from poverty-stricken Guatemala to the US in pursuit of her dream of a higher education.
Is it now apparent that both were young women looking for a better life. Both were standing up to oppressive systems; one defied Taliban fascism, the other defying tyrannical border controls. Both took their lives in their own hands. Both didn’t pose any physical threat to anyone.
But only one story seems to resonate.
Outside immigrant rights organisations and activists, there hasn’t been an explosion of outrage over Gonzalez’s killing.
Is it because she was undocumented, an “alien”, as the officials described her, and therefore without rights?
Is it because she was immediately linked to a group that “attacked” the border agent?
Is it because the incident took place deep in south Texas, where the lives of the undocumented are cheap and unimportant?
Life for undocumented migrants in the US has become a daily dance with sudden deportation or death.
A recent report published by the American Civil Liberties Union (Aclu) and the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, showed that between 2009-2014, border agents routinely abused children who made their way into the country.
If it was tough enough during the Obama years, under Trump conditions have become horrific; it was revealed last week that federal authorities lost track of nearly 1500 immigrant children who came across the border and were taken into custody. The children were reportedly passed on to sponsors, but the government says it lost track of their whereabouts. While some sponsors may be right to be wary of reporting to the government, the fact remains that there is no information about whether these children are in safe hands.
Though his vermin for undocumented migrants began during his election campaign, it was in January this year when Trump used his executive powers to allow officials to deport undocumented migrants under any or all circumstances.
Instead of deporting “criminals” as he said he would, his dictate allows border agents and those belonging to the notorious Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport anyone at will.
Building on that executive order, the US Attorney-General barred judges last week from granting a reprieve to undocumented migrants who have deep roots in the US.
There are 11 million undocumented migrants in the US - many of whom have lived in the country for decades. They have children, grandchildren and other family members who are now American citizens.
The policy is separating families needlessly, spreading terror among communities who have done no wrong and pose no threat. It purposefully criminalises an entire community. It has also given border agents and officers belonging to ICE a licence to profile anyone they deem to be “undocumented” or “migrants”. Speak Spanish on the streets in towns outside the big cities and you could be stopped and asked for proof of identification.
In so doing, it has forced tens of thousands of undocumented people to go underground; they fear for their lives. It has also presented right-wingers and white supremacists an opportunity to be racist and to use this moment to link America to whiteness.
And this is precisely what lies at the heart of this tragedy. This shooting was no accident; it was made possible by the conditions and policies of the Trump administration, building upon an entire machinery that is in place to demonise and dehumanise migrants.
An entire vocabulary has been used to delegitimise and vilify the undocumented. It was only a matter of a time before one took a bullet.
* Azad Essa is a journalist based in New York City. He is also author of Zuma’s Bastard (Two Dogs Books)
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.